Questions: Offbeat Life, coffee table books, and how to become a successful blogger

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Every few months, I put out the call via Facebook and Twitter for reader questions to answer. This time I got so many awesome questions to answer that I'm going to do two posts.

Ariel do you have plans for a super Offbeat LIFE type conglomerate? -Jeanie Tospell

The Offbeat Empire is as big as my existing business and editorial processes can manage, so any additional growth would have to be part of a bigger-picture change to my business model. No plans for that at this point.

Have you ever considered an OBB Wedding porn coffee table type book with photos from some of the best loved wedding porn over the years? -Julia Johnson

Yes. Megan and I have talked about it, but it gets sticky when you get into submissions and photo rights, and things get even uglier when you start talking about production and costs. A full color glossy coffee table book like that would cost a fortune. Less than 1% of this site's readers have shelled out the $10 for the existing Offbeat Bride book — I have trouble imagining that many of you would pay $50 for a book full of photos you can see for free online. (Updated to add: I changed my business model to advertising years ago, so no need to apologize for not buying the book! My point here was just to explain why I think no one would buy a $50 book — not to shame anyone for not buying a $10 one.)

What's been the hardest thing about launching (and sustaining and being successful at) a freelance career that has you working primarily from home? Do you find yourself being lonely? -Ariel Hansen

First, I should note that I don't really consider myself a freelancer at this point. I'm a self-employed small business owner, but I'm not hunting around for clients each month like I used to when I was a freelancer.

But yes: isolation IS the hardest part of the work I do, and finding a place to work outside the home has been KEY for this gig being sustainable for me. At least one day a week, I work at a coworking space called Office Nomads with a bunch of other freelancers/self-employed folks.

Having a staff of people working on the Empire also keeps me from getting lonely. Realistically, I'm working with people in LA, Iowa, Virginia, and Alabama every day. They're not in the room with me, but there's a LOT of chatting and emailing.

How many people work for the offbeat empire?

Technically, just me. But there are eight folks regularly doing work on contract and commission:

  • JMDodd, my long-suffering web developer without whom the entire Empire would crash and burn as I ran around flailing my arms going “OMG OMG, SOMEBODY FIX IT! SOMEBODY FIX IT!”
  • Megan, Offbeat Bride managing editor
  • Stephanie, Offbeat Mama managing editor
  • Cat, Offbeat Home managing editor
  • Coco, Offbeat Bride contributing editor and ad sales
  • Becca, Offbeat Bride intern and on-call dev
  • Ang, Offbeat Bride Tribe community manager
  • Caroline, Offbeat Empire copyeditor

How do you become a successful blogger? I know OBB was a platform from which you could promote the book, but in the blogging realm, how do you really put yourself out there and become known? -Christen

Step 1: figure out how you define “success.” You have to know what you're aiming for if you want to be successful. Are you looking for a book deal? Are you trying to establish yourself as an authority so that you can get hired by an awesome company in your chosen field? Are you trying attract advertisers so that your blog becomes a source of income? How you succeed in blogging totally depends on your goals.

My goals have shifted over the years. When I first started blogging in 2000, there was no concept of doing it full time. I was 25, was bailing on my magazine job, and wanted to meet writers online. I did a lot of the kinds of confessional writing that's really good for making friends, admitting embarrassing things in a public outlet so that others would be like OMG ME TOOO and we could bond over it.

After a few years, my professional goals shifted to “get a book deal,” so my personal blog refocused on highlighting the very best of my writing and getting it seen by as many people as possible. I still wasn't looking for advertisers or sponsorship so I wasn't super focused on a huge readership — I was looking to build potential publishers' confidence in the strength of my voice and ideas. My goals for success were all around the quality of my writing, with a lot of thoughtful, long-format narrative nonfiction and essays.

Once I got the book deal, I launched this here website to help me sell the book. All my good writing was supposedly in the book, so the goal of the blog was leading people to purchase it. I wrote about reading events, did lots of posts that ended “…I talk about this in the book,” and included tons of links Amazon. Success was defined by book sales and numbers of people at my reading events. I didn't want to give away too much writing on the blog, because my success was measured in how many people bought the book.

Midway through June of 2007, I realized it wasn't working. Despite lots of people reading the blog, very few people were buying the book. At that point, I shifted my goals to advertising and sponsorship. My focus shifted at that point from selling books, to selling eyeballs to advertisers. Content was focused on encouraging readers to spend more time on the blog, and read more posts. (Because when selling advertising, monthly pageviews are key.) I upped the number of posts I was producing, and stopped making every post about the book. Since I was producing more, my time to actually WRITE diminished, which is when I started doing more bride profiles and wedding porn and bringing in editors to help me crank it all out.

As you can see, as my goals/measures of success shifted, my blogging changed. Circa-2000 Ariel would consider me terribly boring, because my websites are not about ME any more. Circa-2005 author-era Ariel would be amazed at how little WRITING I actually do — I'm much more focused on business development and editing than I am on writing. Circa-2007 Ariel would be weirded out by the fact that Offbeat Bride has lost its “BOOK” tab — wasn't that the whole focus of the site? But circa-2010 Ariel is stoked: I love that the Offbeat Empire is now about working with a team of awesome people to produce a network of websites for smarties to read.

This is all to say: how you succeed as a blogger totally depends on what kind of success you want. Figure out what you want first.

Step 2: Figure out how to get it.

More reader Q&As coming next week!

Final update: after reading comments, I just wanted to clarify again that no one needs to feel bad or apologize for not buying the book. Of course I love that some of you have read it, but the primary product I've sold since 2007 is advertising, so there's no need to apologize for not buying the book — seriously!

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